Tag Archives: words

These Are Words?

No, I’m not going to complain about neologisms such as “yeet,” which are actually useful, even if I do have to look them up in the Urban Dictionary. Instead, I have some things to say about recent words I’ve encountered that make little sense to me or that I have misread as something else entirely. I find these words perplexing, for a variety of reasons.

One I encountered recently is “sewist,” which is easy to mistake for “sexist” if you’re skimming (or typing, if you’re very bad at it). I think it is an attempt to replace the possibly-problematic-gender-wise “seamstress.” You can’t just retrofit it to “seamster,” I guess, in the way that “actress” has been. (I must admit that it is still difficult for me to refer to Angelina Jolie or Maggie Smith as an actor. I suppose I’ll get used to it, though it’s going to take me a while. But I digress.) There’s always “sewer,” I suppose, though that’s as unlikely to catch on as “sewist,” probably because, pronounced differently, it already has an entrenched (sorry not sorry) meaning.

I must point out that there is another, already existing, term that conveys the same content in an equally nonsexist manner: “fabric artist.” Admittedly, it does have the drawback of being two words and four syllables, which is difficult for speakers to handle in this fast-paced modern world. But the term also conveys the idea of someone skilled in making beautiful things (as well as useful ones) in a way that “sewist” just doesn’t.

The next candidate for Worst New Word is “sanism,” which I thought at first was shorthand (or a mistyping) of “satanism.” After reading further in the passage, I realized that “sanism” was one of the many “-ism” words that refer to offensive, discriminatory practices – like ageism, sexism, lookism (not kidding), racism, colorism (which is different from racism), ableism, and the like.

“Sanism” refers to the oppressive dominance of sanity, over what or whom, I’m still trying to determine. Surely not insanity, which is, these days, a legal term (not guilty by reason of) and not one that should be used to refer to people with mental health issues. Perhaps it refers to the presumption that everyone is sane until proven otherwise, which sounds to me like another class (sorry not sorry) of privilege.

Perusing Merriam-Webster’s words that were added to the dictionary in 2021, one comes across “copypasta” (which does not refer to stealing recipes); “teraflop” (which is not an unsuccessful dinosaur); “halotherapy” (which is not a religious term); “hard pass” (which is not a football term); and “gig worker” (which is not someone who spears frogs).

Of course, none of these may catch on the way “truthiness” did after it was introduced on The Stephen Colbert Show. It was just so darn useful, and resonated with those observing the political scene in 2020, when M-W noticed the word.

One other word that has been resurrected this year, though not with its previous meaning, is “oobleck.” This, of course, was coined by the illustrious Dr. Seuss (one of my first (and still) all-time favorite authors) in Bartholomew and the Oobleck, where it referred to a kind of goopy green snow. Now it means a substance made from cornstarch and water that behaves like a solid at times and like a liquid at others.

Personally, I approve. I think Dr. Seuss would have been proud. Or chuffed, if he were British.

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Light Crumbs and Muffin Bones

A woman told a joke and I collapsed in hysterics before she even got to the punchline. Here’s the set-up:

Why did the man have a hundred-dollar bill tattooed on his wing-wing?

That’s when I lost it.(1)

I found out later that she called a woman’s genitals her “tutu.” Which no doubt confused her kids the first time they saw a ballet.

Almost every family, and many politicians and pundits, have trouble calling things by their right names. So we have “lady parts” and “va-jay-jays” and “junk.” Even “uterus” was too shocking for the Florida State Legislature, which reprimanded a member for letting such a word fall on delicate ears, “particularly [those of] the young pages and messengers who are seated in the chamber during debates.”(2)

But every family also has unique words and phrases that enter their vocabulary and stay there, though not for fear of giving offense. They’re just things that no outsider understands.

Some of these terms are created by children and have no equivalent in adult language. One little girl said she wanted an Easter hat with a “go-down.” “You’ll have to show me one,” her mother said. Turns out a go-down was a ribbon that dangled down the back.

Another child invented “move-down” for that moment during a meal when you’re not completely full but need your stomach contents to settle a bit. My husband and I have adopted that one. It’s just so darn useful. “Are you through?” “No, just having a move-down.”

Here’s a good example of one of our neologisms(3): Light crumbs. Dan works nights and hates to leave lights on because of the power bills. I, on the other hand, can’t find my way upstairs without light. I can’t even get from the sofa to the switch by the stairs. If I get up the stairs, I can’t make it to the switch in the bathroom. If I get that far, I can’t make it to my bedside lamp. I have balance problems and walking in the dark makes me dizzy. Plus we have a cat whose nickname is “Mr. Underfoot.”

So Dan leaves a trail of light crumbs for me to follow like a vision-impaired Hansel and/or Gretel. Instead of turning them on as I reach them, I turn them off as I pass them. It’s less doofy than hanging a flashlight around my neck, more agreeable than sending the power company more than absolutely necessary, and easier on Garcia’s tail. Win, win, win.

Many of our personal vocabulary items have to do with food. Here are a few, with definitions.

Muffin bones. When you eat ribs, you usually have a side plate for the bones. When my husband was doing the low-carb thing, he wouldn’t eat pizza crusts. He would put them aside, and they became pizza bones. Similarly, the empty, sticky, crumby fluted paper cups that hold muffins are muffin bones.

Tuna juice. No, we don’t put fish through a juicer.(4) Tuna juice is the water that tuna packed in water is packed in. Cats love it, either straight up or mixed with their regular food.

Not-flan. I had a recipe for a sweet baked good involving pastry crust, eggs, cream cheese, sugar, and optional fruit topping. My husband kept calling it “flan.” I told him that wasn’t the thing’s name. “What is it then?” he demanded. I was stumped. “Well, not flan!” I replied. Ever since that has been our name for it. Later, after I thought it over, “Way-Too-Big Cheese Danish” would have been more accurate. But by then it was too late.(5)

Cat-related activities are good sources for invented words too. Here are some of ours:

Cat fit. Also known as “the Crazy Hour,” this is when cats race around the house for no apparent reason, as if the devil himself were after them.(6)

Bag mice. Those things that make the rustling noise inside either paper or plastic, that cats must protect their owners from. I was pleased to learn that this phenomenon must be universal, as once in Dubrovnik, a black catten(7) detected bag mice in our souvenir bag. (It’s also possible that it just wanted to sneak into the U.S.)

Kitty burrito. Not a food item, but what you must make in order to give a cat pills, fluids, eye drops, or other indignities. Swaddling in a towel is traditional, but we find that dropping the cat in a pillowcase and then doing the burrito folds makes it harder for the patient to squirm loose.

I have not trademarked or copyrighted any of these words or phrases. Feel free to use them if you wish. And if you’d like to share some of your most useful invented vocabulary items with readers of this blog, please do. But please, no euphemisms or slang terms for penis and vagina. We already have way too many of those.

(1) If you are the one person in the world who’s never heard it, the punchline is: Because he heard how women love to blow money.

(2) Pages and messengers range in age from 12-18. I envision an 18-year-old asking, “Mommy, what’s a uterus?”

(3) Look it up.

(4) Or cook them in the dishwasher, which apparently is a thing.

(5) This was also not during Dan’s low-carb phase.

(6) Once Maggie got her back paw tangled in a plastic shopping bag, got scared, and was chased up the stairs by a recently purchased videotape of An American in Paris, which is not exactly the devil, but pretty alarming anyway. Because no matter how fast you run, it’s still always Right There Behind You.

(7) Not a kitten, but not full-grown; a teen-ager.